Burbank on Parade pays homage to aviation when it marches down Olive Avenue beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday.
It’s with luck that the parade committee has a link to former Lockheed test pilot Robert Gilliland, who will be sharing the title of grand marshal with United Airlines No. 1 pilot Clay Lacy. Gilliland, 85, was the original test pilot of the SR-71 Blackbird when it made its first flight in Palmdale on Dec. 22, 1964.
The Blackbird was designed by Kelly Johnson and was developed as a long-range strategic reconnaissance aircraft that could fly at speeds more than Mach 3.2 and as high as 85,000 feet. The first SR-71 began service in 1966 and the aircraft series was retired in 1990, with just a few kept in operation from 1995 to 1998.
In a phone interview, Gilliland explained that a reconnaissance mission is when an aircraft flies over enemy territory to capture images of military locations.
“You have got to know where the enemy is and what he is doing,” Gilliland said. “The more you know about the enemy, the easier it is to defeat them.”
Kelly Johnson was the chief designer for Lockheed from the 1930s to the ‘70s.
“The Blackbird was the fastest plane to fly for Lockheed and anybody else around the world,” Gilliland said. “It could fly so high, the Russians or anybody else couldn’t shoot it down.”
Gilliland’s fighter pilot experience, he said, was the reason Johnson brought him on as the test pilot for the SR-71. Gilliland volunteered for a combat tour in Korea in 1952 flying the F-84 in a fighter-bomber unit at K-2 Airport, Taegu, Korea. He returned to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany in 1953 where he flew the F-86F Sabre Jet. Next he was assigned as a test fighter pilot at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and the U.S. Armament Center.
He left active service in 1954 and joined the Tennessee Air National Guard, where he flew the P-51, B-26, RF-80, RF-84 and the F-104A. In 1960 he joined Lockheed as a civilian test pilot flying the F-104 Starfighter. A model of that fighter is now displayed in front of Olive Recreation Center, next to the Gordon R. Howard Museum.
“The F-104 was chosen by London as the best fighting machine for the 20th century,” he said.
The engine was built by General Electric, he added, and all the major U.S. allies used it.
“I’m proud that the Italian air force flew the F-104 longer than any other country — 40 years,” he said.
During his first flight of the SR-71, Gilliland flew faster than 1,000 mph for one hour. He was the first pilot to fly the next nine Blackbirds produced and logged more experimental supersonic flight test time above Mach 2 and Mach 3 than any other pilot.
Holocaust survivors to share stories
Survivors of the Holocaust will tell their stories of liberation from German concentration camps when the Burbank Human Relations Council presents the Burbank Days of Remembrance Commemoration, Yom Hashoah, at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday at St. Jude’s Episcopal Church, 111 S. Sixth St.
Speakers are Marie Kaufman and Edith Frankie.
Frankie’s family and the three other families living in Transylvania were taken from their homes in April 1944 and placed in concentration camps when she was 13. Her parents and four children — an older sister who was 15, and younger brother, 11, and sister, 7, were incarcerated. Only she and her older sister survived the yearlong detainment.
Frankie was first sent to Auschwitz, then to work camps. She was liberated when Russian troops invaded Germany.
Now 80 years old, Frankie tells her stories of incarceration to middle school and high school students.
Her message is never hate anybody because by hating, one only hurts one’s self.
“Some say the Holocaust never happened,” she said. “But I tell students to tell people they have heard the story of a survivor.”
Grupo Folklorico gets float in gear
Grupo Folklorico Mi Bella Guatemala is returning this year to Burbank on Parade with another float they hope will take home honors. Lilian Avila, coordinator, and her volunteers are creating a float in keeping with the aviation theme.
Last year, the theme celebrated Burbank’s centennial year, so Avila and her group built a huge three-layer cake. They piled three tables of descending sizes on top of each other and she sewed covers for each tier and applied white lace along the top edge to look like icing. It won second place.
Members perform folkloric Mayan dances accompanied by wooden handmade instruments — the marimba and chirimilla. The group wears custom-made costumes designed by indigenous craftsmen who spend months dyeing and preparing the detailed cloth. Evaniria Dubon owns the costumes.
Those volunteering are Elder Morales, Arturo Perez Solares, Maria Blackburn, Alex Munoz, Fernando Alvarez, Brian Munoz, Edwin Antoni Reyes, Elvina Vasquez, Socorro Leiva, Raul Herrera, Juanita Canel, Teresa Gomez and Chelli Cortez.
JOYCE RUDOLPH can be contacted at email@example.com.